Photographing Sunflowers near the San Francisco Bay Area - Tips & Tricks

June 29, 2020  •  3 Comments

Photographing Sunflowers - Tips, Tricks, & Pics

Photographing fields of sunflowers in Northern California has been on my bucket list for a LONG time! But personal projects always seem to take a back seat. Can you relate?

Being a full-time Family, Senior Portrait, Bar & Bat Mitzvah, and Wedding Photographer here in the San Francisco Bay Area doesn't leave a lot of free time, but with all the recent changes in the event industry, personal projects have become my therapy.

SOOOOO, last weekend on Father's Day, I invited my dad (a photography enthusiast himself) to check off that bucket list item, and join me on a photo shoot in the sunflowers.

Sunflower-Field-Fisheye-ViewSunflower-Field-Fisheye-ViewA sunflower field at sunset with a different view. Photography tip - Use a fisheye lens to give a unique, artistic, look to your landscape photography. Try tipping the fisheye lens at different angles for even more creative fun. Use elements such as these two trees for added interest.

 

The Key to Great Sunflower Photos

Catching sunflower fields at their peak is the key to great photos. Selecting a location for our shoot took a lot of googling and searching through Instagram and Facebook. I finally selected M3 Ranches (also called Muller Ranch) in Woodland, CA.

After our shoot, I realized just how tricky photographing the fields can be. And now, you get the benefit of my experience!

Here are my top Tips & Tricks with example photos to help you get the best possible sunflower shots.

Sunflower-Panoramic-Woodland-CASunflower-Panoramic-Woodland-CAPanoramic crop of a sunflower field in Woodland, CA. Photography tip - when the sky is too bright, shoot low and fill the frame with our subject. The crop as a panoramic.

 

General Tips for Photographing Sunflowers

  • Ask permission from ranch owners whenever possible.
  • Always be respectful of their private property.
  • Bring extra shoes or rain boots - Fields can be muddy from irrigation.
  • It's HOT! Sunflowers love the heat. Bring a cooler with water, wear a hat, etc...
  • Bees - Sunflower farmers need bees to pollinate the fields which means bee hives. They are less active at sunrise & sunset. They don't bother you if you don't bother them.
  • Mosquitos - Bring insect repellent. After sunset, these guys are pesky!

 

Where to Find Sunflowers:

Yolo County is the place to be! Here are a few of the best sunflower fields.

M3 Ranches (Muller Ranch) - Woodland, CA - Great trees in the middle of the field at sunset. A bit off-the-beaten-path. Check their Facebook page for sunflower updates and dm them for permission.

Here are the exact coordinates on Google Maps to take you right there: https://goo.gl/maps/wJb5jFD8fvs62LSSA
 

Dixon, CA - 8747 Currey Rd, Dixon, CA 95620 - Check online for reviews first as I read this field was cut down early this year. But photos look amazing!

UC Davis - I've read you'll find sunflower fields driving on the outskirts of UC Davis.

 

When to Go:

July is typically when sunflowers peak in Yolo County. But this year, M3 Ranches planted early, so mid-June was ideal. Keep checking websites as peaks vary year-to-year.

 

Time of Day:

SUNSET! Colors pop, flowers are backlit, and fewer bees. Midday light is way too harsh. We arrived an hour before sunset to shoot close-ups and details until the light softened.

Sunflower Trivia (and photography tip) - Did you know sunflowers follow the sun? They actually face the direction of the sun... until sunset that is. That's when they turn back away from the sun, waiting for it to come up again the next morning. And that's why you see them facing the camera in these shots!

Backlit-Sunflower-Field-at-Dusk-Woodland-CABacklit-Sunflower-Field-at-Dusk-Woodland-CASunflowers turning away from the sun as it sets behind them. 3M Ranches in Woodland, CA has the perfect sunflower field for creating backlit shots at sunset with the benefit of trees for added interest. Photography tip - use a wide angle lens to capture the vastness of the scene in a large landscape photo like this.

 

Photography Tips for Shooting Sunflowers

Gear I used:

Camera - Canon 5D MkIII

Lenses - 16-35, 24-70, 70-200, Fisheye (and if you like super close-up shots with bees, bring a Macro lens!)

Tripod - Gitzo

Nice to Have - ND (Neutral Density) and/or Polarizing filter. I did not use filters, but with bright backlight in a cloudless sky, would be very useful.

Wish I Had - Ladder! Forgot to bring one. With tall sunflowers, would have been cool to get a higher perspective. Over the head works if you're not vertically challenged like me!

 

How to Shoot:

  • Go for Variety
  • Tight shots of small groups of flowers, play with composition
  • Closeups of individual flowers
  • Shoot Low & Fill the Frame - especially when the sky is still bright and boring
  • Wide Shots - Once the sun gets low on the horizon, go WIDE, use other elements to add to your composition (trees, buildings, fences, etc...), envision a panoramic crop
  • Starburst - When the sun is partially obstructed by trees or sunflowers, this is your opportunity to add a cool starburst to your composition. F/11 is the ticket, shooting directly into the sun
  • Look at the Sky - If you have a cloudless, bright sky, turn around and see where the best colors are as the sun sets. It may not be right in front of you. Adjust your position to have the best possible sky, and still get the sunflowers in the shot the way you want.
  • Don't Leave Too Early! - Tripods allow you to shoot when it gets darker using slower shutter speeds. Your best shots will be from the time the sun sets to when the sky dims and better matches the light on the sunflowers. All of my sunset pictures taken on a tripod were at ISO 100, F/11, with shutter speeds from 1/60 to 10 seconds
  • Rule of Thirds - Compose your shots so horizon is on a third, and any additional elements are on a third (where lines intersect). And sometimes, it's ok to break the rule!

                                 RuleofThirdsGraphicRuleofThirdsGraphic

  • Fisheye Fun! - If you have this lens, go for it! Play with tipping the lens up and down vertically for different looks. Very cool.

 

Here are some examples:

Tight Shots, Playing with Composition

Sunny-Sunflowers-Woodland-CASunny-Sunflowers-Woodland-CAComposing photos of sunflowers in a large field can be challenging, but this stalk of flowers had the perfect artistic composition. Get low with your camera when the sky is bright and fill the frame with the flowers.

 

Wide Shot - Panoramic Crop

Panoramic-Sunflower-Field-at-SunsetPanoramic-Sunflower-Field-at-SunsetA wide angle landscape photo of a sunflower field at sunset with a panoramic crop. 3M Ranches in Woodland, CA is the perfect place to capture these beautiful sunflowers. Photography tip - Get creative by composing your shot using added elements such as this tree and the rule of thirds.

 

Shoot Low - Fill the Frame when the sky is too bright

Sunflowers-at-Dusk-Woodland-CASunflowers-at-Dusk-Woodland-CAJust before sunset, sunflowers face away from the sun. Close-up sunflower photo taken at 3M Ranches in Woodland, CA by Cheryl Bigman Photography.

 

Starburst Effect

Sunflower-Landscape-with-StarburstSunflower-Landscape-with-StarburstLandscape photo of a sunflower field at sunset at 3M Ranches in Woodland, CA. Photography tip - Create a starburst effect when the sun is partially blocked by trees by setting your aperture at f/11 and shooting directly into the sun.

 

Fisheye Lens

Sunflower-Field-Fisheye-ViewSunflower-Field-Fisheye-ViewA sunflower field at sunset with a different view. Photography tip - Use a fisheye lens to give a unique, artistic, look to your landscape photography. Try tipping the fisheye lens at different angles for even more creative fun. Use elements such as these two trees for added interest.

 

My primary goal for this shoot was to get great landscape shots, but I was a little sad that I didn't spend more time getting close-up macro shots. Next time!

 

Leave a Comment

I hope you enjoyed this Blog as much as I enjoyed creating it! Have you ever spent time in the sunflower fields? Have you found a great location?

Leave a Comment and tell me all about it!

 

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Cheryl

 

 


Comments

Cheryl Bigman Photography
Thanks SP and Hasibur Joy! Glad you found these tips helpful.
SP(non-registered)
Thank you for all these wonderful tips! Beautiful photos!
Hasibur Joy(non-registered)
Great work. You are doing nice. All the pictures look very nice. Thank You.
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